Heston and UoN Put The Science Into Dunking!

To dunk or not to dunk? That is the question. And it’s the question that nearly all of us tea drinkers have asked. Well the University of Nottingham has been called upon to help T.V. chef Heston Blumenthal  answer this question so intrinsic to tea drinkers. It was one of those big questions which had bothered Heston since childhood; ‘do chocolate biscuits taste better after dunking in tea?’

Heston is known for his modern approach to cooking both in the way in which the dish is created and with the senses it stimulates, so it wasn’t surprising when he turned to The University of Nottingham to help scientifically answer this long debated question.

Dr Ian Fisk and Professor Sacha Mooney of the University of Nottingham helped Heston answer this question using some unlikely equipment. If food and science are to you two very different fields then it may surprise you to discover what methods were used to tackle this great dunking question.

Dr Ian Fisk, an expert in food chemistry, and his team undertook lab tests hooking Heston up to their MS-NOSE mass spectrometer. Heston said: “If you have chocolate on one side, and it melts a bit, you get a velvety smooth texture and then a delicious flavour as a result”.

The tests carried out allowed Heston to look at the changes that occurred to a chocolate digestive when it is dunked in tea, explaining why his reactions to the taste of the dunked digestive had changed. Dr Ian Fisk commented “Heston always makes the real science of food approachable. This is a good example, if a little quirky, of the science that exists behind normal food.”.

But explaining the aroma and taste of the biscuit wasn’t the end of it! With Heston’s new programme Fantastical Food focusing on ‘supersizing’ ordinary food items, finding out the stability of the biscuit was also necessary in order to determine a successful up scaling. Professor Sacha Mooney also used these findings to help Heston answer why chocolate digestives are the most resistant to any such dunk related trauma.

Using a high powered X-ray Micro-computed Tomography scanner called the Nanotom, Heston and Professor Sacha Mooney were able to look at the change in structure of the chocolate digestive before and after dunking. Professor Sacha Mooney, from the University’s Division of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, said: “Our X-ray scanner is mainly used for looking inside plant and soil structures, and even though we have previously scanned some chocolate bars, it was a first for us to actually look at how the structure inside a biscuit changes after dunking. The high resolution of the scanner means that we can visualise even the smallest of changes that occur at only a few microns. The work was a great excuse to have a few tea breaks!”

This is not the first time that researchers based at The University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonnington campus have experienced media interest, with previous media attention being focused on the excessive  existence of salt and probiotics in our food. Now that the brilliance of scientific technology is helping the human race better understand the power of the dunk, let us hope that we see more such questions get answered in the future. Battered marshmallows, anyone?

Emma Drabble

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